BEHOLD THE SPACE FORCE!

Karl Grossman has written a number of very interesting and enlightening pieces about the US nuclear industry and the corporate/military push to weaponise space. There are numerous funny and absurd pieces already on the internet about the new US Space Force (a re-named branch of the US Air Force with added budget and bureaucracy), especially regarding the contest for its logo and the design of its uniform. I shall not make any such jokes, since I am very much in favour of the wonderful new US Space Force, for reasons which will become clear. Instead I’ll point you towards this piece by Grossman, in which he shows that the Space Force is not the insane, treaty-busting scheme of a lone despot in the White House, but rather a bipartisan project, supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.

It is salutory to think of all the Democrats who made possible this new arm of the US military, dedicated to war in space. In the House of Representatives, 188 Democrats joined 189 Republicans in voting in favour. Only 41 Democrats (including Gabbard, DeFazio, Lee, Jayapal, Ocasio-Cortez and Omar) voted against.

In the Senate, 37 Democrats joined 48 Republicans in ushering in the militarization of the stratosphere. Only four Democrats – the two Merkleys, Gillibrand, and Wyden – voted against. Not wishing to offend anyone, Sanders, Warren, Klobuchar, Booker and Harris did not vote.

Why, the astute reader might ask, do I support this insane plan, a multi-billion dollar boondoggle which will benefit Boeing (poor Boeing! They need our money!), General Electric, and the usual suspects? Because I am a fan of 40s and 50s and 60s science fiction, and novels like The Space Merchants in which everything has been converted into a corrupt, money-making scam? Because I like the visual lines of the orbiting nuclear weapons we see in Kubrick’s 2001, after that memorable cut from the graceful, ape-man bone? Because I like treading on the same rake, and having it fly up and hit me in the face?

Not at all. The Outer Space Treaty (signed by the US in 1967) forbids the placing of weapons of mass destruction in space. The US and the other signators abide by this not because they are good, but because putting nuclear weapons in orbit around earth is simply not worth it. If this were easy to do, by now all the nuclear powers would have done it – and there would be American and Russian and Israeli and Chinese and British and French and Indian and Pakistani nukes circling over our heads now.

Putting useable nuclear weapons in orbit is a huge and difficult project. It isn’t like blasting the Cassini probe – with its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel aboard a Titan IV rocket – into space and hoping for the best (Grossman has an excellent piece about that here). Nuclear weapons like the ones in 2001 would have to be hefted into orbit and maintained there, indefinitely. If the weapons’ orbit decayed, they would have to be destroyed in space. Nukes in space would be a target for any nation which felt threatened by them – just as ICBMs and air bases and submarine pens are now.

Instead, the Space Force will probably aim for full-spectrum dominance – in the unfortunate event of war, or sanctions, or whatever – by taking out some or all of the assets our “foes” currently have in orbit. This will be done, at first, by ground-based missiles, though I imagine Raytheon have a nifty hypersonic missile in the works for later (two trillion dollars! cheap!) Of course, the Space Force will need lots of “eyes in the sky” too (though these will largely duplicate what the NSA and military already have up there), plus “anti-jamming” communications satellites, and there will no doubt be expensive tests of “satellite killer” missiles and “missile killer” satellites, and even of space-based missile interceptors (Grossman discusses the Missile Defense Review here).

Right now it all sounds ever so exciting. Air Force General John “Jay” Raymond has praised “the uniforms, the patch, the song, the culture of service…” And well he might, for he is not only Chief of Space Operations, he is also Chief of the Space Force and Commander of US Space Command, too! And the bipartisan site Defense One wants us to know that “The US Space Force is Not a Joke.” So there. And the US National Guard is asking the Pentagon to create a “Space National Guard” as well.

The wonderful thing about all this is that is it so painless! It doesn’t even have to involve any “nudets”. On the one hand we have a George Lucas/Buck Rogers star wars scenario, with spacepersons, badges, uniforms and songs…

And on the other hand, since all the best science fiction veers towards the dystopian, not the frivolous, we have the likely result: that the US Space Force (or the Russian Space Force, or the Chinese, it doesn’t matter), by accident or design, actually tries to destroy another state’s surveillance or communications satellites. What happens then? The victim state, less technologically advanced perhaps, retaliates with air-burst missiles in the upper atmosphere, a crude but entirely effective way of crippling any satellites (including those “anti-jamming” ones) in the vicinity.

Space debris, we are told, is already a problem. It bedevils the Space Station, and is the starting point of the popular movie, Gravity. If the US Space Force succeeds in its mission, and fights wars in space, Earth will be surrounded by a dense skein of space wreckage. Long distance communication and navigation systems will be degraded. Intelligence and surveillance satellites will be destroyed. For a while there will still be GPS — GPS satellites orbit at higher altitudes than ICBMs can reach, and would need to be destroyed by space launch vehicles, assuming they could make it through the debris belt. Either way there will be no more space travel. Elon Musk and Richard Branson will never fly to Mars.

Imagine, all the clever brains and rare earth metals and fossil fuels currently engaged in blasting stuff into space, being redeployed to more useful activities on Earth.

The astronomers may complain, as will the unfortunates flattened when burning chunks of space junk come hurtling home. But planet-wide, reality-based science and discourse are long overdue, and the US Space Force could be the way to acheive this change of emphasis.

DODGING THE BULLET VII: WHO BENEFITS?

In the films and tv shows I’ve seen, when the detective arrives at the scene of an unsolved crime, he or she usually asks the question, “Cui Bono?” He/she may not have asked it in Latin, but the meaning was, “Who benefits?”

When a great war crime is committed, it’s even more worth asking, “Who benefits from this?”

In the case of the greatest crime of all, the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, there are surprisingly few beneficiaries. In the US the development and maintenance of nukes has been a great boon to a tiny handful of big companies: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. Between them, these five scooped up one third of all Pentagon nuclear weapons contracts.

There’s a good discussion of the enormous money made by a handful of big nuclear war companies, their army of lobbyists in Washington DC, and the political inertia which leads to endless spending on nukes, here.

Of course, many other corporations profit from nuclear weapons tech: high on the second-tier list are the Carlyle Group (which took over UC’s nuclear programs and has had former President George W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major on its board), Honeywell, General Electric (until recently the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures), and Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company.

Most of these beneficiary companies have shareholders, and so their shareholders, whether individuals or pension funds, might be said to benefit, if the share price rises. In this way many people participate in taxpayer-funded preparation for nuclear war. But in the wider world beyond the stock exchanges, most humans don’t have shares in anything, and gain nothing from the trade.

Do individuals benefit? Some do. Werner Von Braun was a Nazi scientist who fired rockets at London and the Netherlands. He ran his own concentration camp, Dora, where prisoners were worked to death, and hung. It would have made sense for him to be tried with the other Nazi war criminals. But Von Braun was no fool. He fled the advancing Russian troops and surrendered to the Americans. The US military swiftly brought him to the States, acquired him citizenship, and put him to work designing and building ICBMs — long range missiles which could carry nuclear warheads to Russia. Von Braun become something of a celebrity in the US, promoting rocket ships and nuclear platforms in space and being declared Time’s “Man of the Year”.

Another beneficiary, apparently, is Michelle Obama, the former First Lady. In August 2016 she “christened” a General Dynamics Virginia-class nuclear submarine. The boat was named Illinois, in honour of her home state. What did Ms. Obama think she was doing? Has this presumably intelligent person no imagination? No moral compass? One US nuclear submarine carries enough warheads to kill pretty much everybody in the world: just a couple of nukes could render her home state uninhabitable. Yet there was no outcry. In the “floating world” which professional politicians and opinion-formers inhabit, there seems no downside to promoting genocide: no horror or repulsion at the thought of what the boat she “christened” has been designed and equipped to do.

And another beneficiary of the nuclear-industrial economy was Sam Cohen, a physicist who worked with Edward Teller at Los Alamos. Sam was most famous as the designer of the Neutron Bomb – a radiation weapon designed to kill everyone in the vicinity, with minimal physical destruction. As the character in REPO MAN observed, “It kills people but leaves buildings standing.” The notion of a bomb which destroys life but respects property is entirely hideous, but to Sam it was not so. He was proud to be thought of as the “father” of the Neutron Bomb, which he insisted was a humanitarian weapon for which he had received a Peace Medal from the Pope. This last was absolutely true: Sam showed me his award, and left to his daughter in his will.

Are nukes really worth this nonsensical eccentricity? Profits for a small number of rich companies? Sam with his medal, Michelle “christening” a holocaust boat, Werner avoiding the gallows and going to work for Walt Disney?

Fortunately, there is an alternative.

If you live in the US, or England, or France, or Russia or China, or one of the other nuke nations, you might despair and think there’s no way out: your politicians are too stupid, too hooked on power and “credibility”, too fearful of their own military and intelligence agencies…  But for most of the planet, this is not so. Most humans live in countries which don’t have nuclear weapons. Somehow, lacking even the most modest nuclear deterrent, they all manage to survive. Most nations don’t have nukes, and don’t want them. Entire continents – South America and Africa – are nuclear-free zones.

Narcissistic politicians backed/dominated by generals armed to the teeth with hydrogen bombs are neither desired nor respected by the people of the wider world, and so, this year, the United Nations will debate and vote on a proposal to outlaw nuclear weapons.
The negotiations will take place at UN headquarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July 2017. In the UN General Assembly, 113 nations have already voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating committee. The treaty, which will almost certainly be passed by a massive majority, will likely prohibit a range of activities relating to nukes, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and transfer, as well as assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone to engage in any of these prohibited activities.

Now, I’m as cynical as the next poor fool, and I know this sounds like pie-in-the-sky. The US, Russia, Britain, France, and most of the other nuclear powers oppose the treaty and can be expected, initially, to ignore it (promisingly, China has welcomed the treaty negotiations and has abstained rather than vote against them). These countries also opposed treaties banning land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs… at the outset. But the world-wide rejection of these devilish devices, codified in international treaty form, has had an actual effect. Russia and America have destroyed their substantial inventories of nerve and poison gas. Land mines have been outlawed, world-wide. And the US is increasingly isolated in its production and export (to that haven of democracy and women’s rights Saudi Arabia) of cluster bombs.

Even if the “great powers” don’t sign up for the treaty, they will be influenced by it, and by the world opinion it clearly conveys. We who live in the nuclear weapons states must not let our “leaders” forget that they are under an obligation – Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty – to act “in good faith” to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

A year before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King said, “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The US government currently gives 54% of federal discretionary spending to the Pentagon. This is almost half the entire world’s military outlay. President Trump intends to give the Pentagon and military contractors even more, and to continue with President Obama’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” In America, genocide has always been a bi-partisan affair. In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King described the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” With the US currently bombing several other countries, occupying Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and maintaining a web of 800 military bases around the world, things are even worse today.

I live in rural Oregon near three towns which the local paramedics call the “Crankster Triangle.” Unemployment is high, wages are low, and nutrition is terrible. Meth and heroin (from far-off Afghanistan!) are readily available. And there are for-profit jails in neighboring poor rural towns, ready and waiting.

This beautiful country is falling apart, abandoned by elites who don’t give a damn about any place without a private airport and a ski resort.

Can it be turned around? Yes. I think it can. It will be a tall order and will take a lot more than the abolition of nukes – only a fraction of the huge American military budget, but still an enormous saving of taxpayers’ money which could be applied instead to…

Environmental clean-up and remediation.

Infrastructure.

Writing off student debt.

A guaranteed minimum wage.

Single-payer health care.

If you’re a hardcore libertarian or conservative you may oppose all of the above. In which case, why not abolish nukes and simply lower taxes?

One of the smartest people I know is an English lawyer who lives outside Cambridge. In all his life he has only voted Conservative, or Green. He believes in conservative principles, which for him include actual conservation. Conservation. Beyond that, the differences he and I might have don’t matter very much. We both think that conserving and protecting the environment is humanity’s obligation, and most important goal.

Yes, global warming is real and disastrous. But – as Marianne Faithfull observed – nuclear war could come at any time, and there’s no point worrying about global warming if the climate change we’re looking at is a nuclear war-based ice age. And that’s what’s on the agenda this year, at the UN.

If the nine nuclear nations can come to their senses, and be shamed, or flattered, into reducing their hideous stockpiles, then there may be a foreseeable future. Only then will it make sense to prepare for the consequences of a warming climate change.

If you are a British citizen or resident, you can add your name to a petition instructing Parliament not to boycott the United Nations vote here.

(Ms. Faithfull’s Broken English video was directed by Derek Jarman, a wonderful man and a moral film director. He is greatly missed)